Birth Strike: A Review in The Progressive Populist

By Seth Sandronsky
The Progressive Populist
May 1st, 2019

April 2 was Equal Pay Day in the US. Why? The hourly pay gap between women and men workers is a social problem.
First, consider its character. For that, we turn to Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC.

“On average in 2018,” according to her, “women were paid 22.6% less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and geographic division.

“Furthermore, if the overall 22.6% gender pay penalty isn’t cause enough for alarm, the gaps for black and Hispanic women are even larger. Compared to white men, black and Hispanic women are paid 34.9% and 34.3% less, respectively, after controlling for age, education, and geographic division.”

What to do about the gender pay gap? One policy Gould recommends is increasing the federal minimum wage. It is currently $7.25 an hour, no typo, folks.

Another policy recommendation is for the enactment of HR 7. As federal law, it would “amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes.”

Jenny Brown is the author of Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work (PM Press, 2019). She, with National Women’s Liberation now and a former editor at Labor Notes, has a bold take on the systematic exploitation of women’s labor in and out of the paid labor force.

“First, when women have kids and,” she told The Progressive Populist in an email interview, “because of lack of paid leave and childcare, one spouse has to leave their job, unequal pay means it is almost always the woman because as a unit you want to keep getting the larger paycheck. That puts her back in the position created by the family wage of dependence on the male breadwinner.”

The consequences of a two-tier, gender-based hourly wage structure has far-reaching impacts in and out of the home. Children of all genders, for example, win or lose based in no small part on the rate of pay that adults receive.

Brown calls for increasing the social wage versus payments in cash, taxations benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or allowances for kids, e.g., taxable deductions. Why? Upping the social wage allows chronically underpaid women and their families to disconnect from the tyranny of the “family wage system” where the boss does not have to be right; s/he just has to be the boss and by force of power rules the increasingly union-free workplace.

By contrast, social wage provisions are universal policy options. That is “they are provided to everyone in the society regardless of marital status, age, or any other characteristic, and therefore are more of a feminist way to go.” No means-testing metrics that allocate social wage provisions based on household income, a kind of divide-and-conquer approach to keeping the working class, women and men, down and divided.

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